Pop quiz: Which metal has “the highest melting point of all the elements on the periodic table, (…) is a vital ingredient to a wide-range of industrial and military applications,” has made the Department of Interior’s final list of 35 metals deemed critical to U.S. national security, “yet none of this durable metal is currently mined in the United States?”
In the seventh installment of “Critical Minerals” Alaska, a feature series for North of 60 Mining News that “investigates Alaska’s potential as a domestic source of minerals deemed critical to the United States,” Shane Lasley zeroes in on the metal described above: Tungsten.
Once more, a familiar scenario unfolds here as is the case for so many of the metals and minerals deemed critical from a U.S. perspective – China dominates both production and global supply of the material. Writes Lasley:
“In 2017, the Middle Kingdom produced an estimated 79,000 metric tons of tungsten, roughly 82 percent of the global total for the year. Vietnam, the world’s second largest tungsten supplier, produced 7,200 metric tons last year. Russia, Austria and the United Kingdom round out the world’s top tungsten sources.
In recent years, however, China has put limitations on tungsten mining and exports of this durable metal, causing concerns about global supply.
While China touts stronger environmental safeguards as one of the primary reasons for restricting the mining of tungsten, as well as a host of other critical metals, many analysts believes the government’s motives have more to do with consolidating mining to the country’s largest producers and bolstering prices.
Whatever the motivations, China’s production and export restrictions have resulted in sharp increases in the price of ferro-tungsten, an iron (25 percent) and tungsten (75 percent) alloy traded on world markets.”
To followers of ARPN, who are no strangers to China’s propensity to play politics with its supply advantages — or, as in the case of Rare Earths, near-total supply monopolies — this should come as no surprise, and should be a consideration for policy makers in the current escalation of trade tensions between both countries.
An opportunity to at least alleviate domestic supply concerns for Tungsten may be found in Alaska, writes Lasley:
“Though none of this tough metal is currently mined in the United States, Alaska is a past producer of the tungsten minerals, wolframite and scheelite, and areas across the state show promise for future production of these and other critical minerals.”
Among them, the Lost River skarn on the Seward Peninsula about 80 miles northwest of Nome likely holds the most promise, according to Lasley:
“With tungsten, fluorite, tin and beryllium all on USGS’s recent list of minerals critical to the United States, the Lost River deposit may well be worth the work to further define a critical metals deposit on U.S. soil.”